This Saturday, Steve Spurrier and his staff are hoping to get answers to a lot of their questions at the South Carolina Gamecocks’ annual spring football game.
With the team coming off their third straight eleven win season, expectations are high, but there are a lot of holes to fill. Most of the holes, and questions, come on the defensive side of the ball as the offense returns a lot of talent. At quarterback, the only question is who will backup starter Dylan Thompson, who has played frequently and solidly the past few seasons. At running back, there is practically a stable of talent, with Mike Davis coming off a breakout year, not to mention Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson, and newcomer David Williams. The wide receiver corps is also pretty full, with seniors Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd, junior Shaq Roland, and emerging star Pharoh Cooper. The offensive line is extremely solid with much of the group returning from last year. Ultimately, the only big question mark for the offense is at tight end, especially with Rory Anderson’s injury last week. Overall, the explosive offense from last year could be one of the best in the nation this coming season.
On the defensive side, there some big shoes to fill and a lot more questions, like both defensive ends, cornerback, safety, spur linebacker, and a defensive tackle. Most teams that have that many opportunities on one side of the ball would not only have much hope for next season, but may be actually worried about what lies ahead. The good news is the Gamecocks have talent all over the place on the defensive side, so finding the people isn’t the problem. The problem is figuring out who will emerge as the leaders, as the starters, and with some people changing spots, getting them enough practice and playing time before the season starts to feel comfortable in their new role.
Much of the spotlight last season was on defensive end, with Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcey Quarles both looking to be taken early in next month’s draft. Although Gerald Dixon and Darius English are listed as the spring starts to take their spots, they didn’t get a ton of playing time last year. But the Gamecocks also lost their top two tacklers and cornerbacks from last year, as Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree are hoping to make it in the NFL this year as well. That leaves all kinds of questions at cornerback, and with Rico McWilliams nursing an injury, it’s creating even more challenges than they expected. Still the issue is more figuring out who goes where as opposed to who do they have, and that means regardless of the challenges they might have depth. As the Bleacher Report mentioned in an article yesterday, “Great teams don’t just have superstars up front on defense—they have depth. This spring has been all about building that depth for defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. If that depth shows up on Saturday inside Williams-Brice Stadium, it will go a long way towards solidifying the defense for a 2014 title run.” Of course, this is the kind of hope that gets fans excited as well.
Regardless of these issues, the biggest concern Lorenzo Ward might have is who will step up as the leaders on defense. The past few years, much of what created the energy on the field were the players stepping up to take charge, challenging their teammates, making big plays, and ensuring they were focused in those moments when the pressure was on them. The last few years have seen Jadeveon Clowney, Vic Hampton, DJ Swearinger, and Melvin Ingram all play that role which contributed to the strength of the defense. Who will that player be this year?
It’s a lot to figure out, and it won’t all be determined in the spring game. However, the scrimmage will go a long way in giving the coaches a chance to see players in action, and that will give them more to go on and think about over the summer.
The spring game starts at noon at Williams-Brice Stadium, and is free to the public. It will also be broadcast on ESPNU.